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Thursday, November 08, 2012

A parallel everywhere

A mail was waiting in my inbox this morning that announced that Sonia Gandhi had distributed appointment letters to 14 persons at Lalganj in Rae Bareli yesterday while inaugurating a railway coach building factory there. These were the people who sold their land to the Indian Railways for setting up the coach building factory; now they are employed in the factory. That reminded me of the ironic story of Surya Bahadur Subba of Lataguri in Garumara National Park.

It was a leisurely drive from the Coronation Bridge at Sevoke to Chalsa on an excellent stretch of the National Highway No. 31 and then through the dense forest of Garumara to Lataguri on a lonely road in that October evening. As I was trying to negotiate my Scorpio at the rather narrow gate of the resort at Lataguri, Subba came to my assistance helping me to reverse my vehicle. He was in his seventies with lines of deep creases on his face, perhaps more pronounced that evening by the golden light from the setting sun. Subba was the night chowkidar at the resort.

Once I parked my vehicle and my wife and son retired to their room, I sat down to have a chat with Subba. It was just evening and there was at least two hours before Subba would take his post. The resort was almost in the middle of a tea garden and one can smell the fresh tea leaves from the windows of the rooms.
Everywhere I go, I make it a point to try and taste the local brew and visit some home of local inhabitants. There is no philosophy behind this, it's just that I find these to be the easiest way of getting a feel of the place and so far this have invariably proved to be helpful.

So, there I was, talking to Subba in an attempt to find out where would  the poison be available. It took me a bit of explaining before Subba's face light up - "ohh! Roxy you want?" Apparently, the name for the local variety of the drink made from jaggery was Roxy. Subba said it would be available in the coolie line in the tea garden but nobody would sell it to me. So, I requested him to accompany me and he agreed. It was about one-and-a-half or so kilometer inside the tea garden where the coolie line was situated and we decided to take my vehicle instead of walking. Roxy was available and waiting to entertain me for rupees twenty a bottle. I wanted to take two - one for me and the other for Subba - but he refused saying he would have to start his night shift soon.

As I was gulping away Roxy on our way back Subba opened up. He was a native of Gangtok, Sikkim. During the Indo-China war in 1962, at the age of seventeen he came to Dooars to work with the Indian Army as a coolie. The War ended but Subba decided to stay back marrying the daughter of a tea garden labourer. For almost three decades after the war, Subba build up his home and a fortune doing odd jobs and supplying materials to the Indian Army who have a strong presence in the area. He bought about five acres of land and brought up two sons and a daughter. The daughter is married off and the wife died a few years ago. Subbas fortune dwindled during the last one decade as age caught  up with him and he lost the physical ability to work. The two sons proved to be more of liabilities than assets, could not do well for themselves and now stays with him; one working at the resort as a helper.

He used to cultivate rice and some cash crops in the five acres of land till the end of the last century or till his body had that capability. The two sons lacking interest in agriculture had decided to try their hands in some odd business only to lose money. In the meantime the sons got married and the five acres of land could no longer support the family which had grown to seven by then. With the rediscovery of Dooars and Gorumara as tourist destinations, resorts started to sprang up in the region creating demand for land. It was then that Subba decided to sell major part of his land to a businessman from Maynaguri who wanted to set up a resort.

The more or less monologue of Subba was disturbed as we reached the resort and he had to get down to help me reverse my vehicle. By this time Roxy had taken over me completely and I was feeling euphoric. Before saying goodnight to Subba I wanted to know where does he live. He pointed to the small thatched house next to the resort. The resort I was staying actually stands on the plot of land that Subba had sold to the businessman from Mayanguri! I think all the Roxy in the world could not have prevented my euphoria from vanishing in realisation that the man had been relegated to a night chowkidar of the resort that sprung up on the land he once owned.

The story in Rae Bareli sound familiar. You can always find a parallel everywhere!


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